Musical craftsman

Published 4:45 pm Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Jack Dudley meandered down the Sipsey River in Pickens County last summer out of boredom.

The phone hadn’t rang in a while, leaving business for a builder “simply pathetic.” Dudley said he needed to get his hands busy on a project, so he threw a handful of Cyprus roots into his flat-bottom boat.

“I almost threw the things out a couple of times,” Dudley said.

But his brother kept nagging Dudley to build a lap steel guitar out of a piece of Maple. Instead, Dudley began carving on one of the Cyprus roots and discovered a beautiful result. Each individual guitar is unique in the curve of the wood, the pattern of the wood grain, the design of the trim.

“There’s no mass production of these things,” Dudley said. “The shape is so different, the color is different.”

Bruce Andrews is the lead singer in 2Blu and the Lucky Stiffs, the band Dudley plays bass in. Andrews said the band took all of Dudley’s instruments to the Magic City Blues Festival earlier this year and blew the crowd away.

“Here we are doing this Delta Blues swampy music and he’s making these Delta Blues swampy instruments,” Andrews said.

Andrews said it was a unique element to bring to their style.

“Jack is just this great artist with wood,” Andrews said. “He’s making these instruments that not only look good but sound great. He’s got this weird combination of artistry and a gift to make instruments that have perfect pitch.”

All the instruments the band plays from bass guitars to a Peruvian drum box Dudley made by hand.

“We’ve adjusted the whole band’s repertoire because it just seemed like such a cool thing to have these homemade instruments,” Dudley said.

Dudley said instead of sitting around the house going stir crazy, he headed to his shop.

“If somebody else gets bored they might go and play golf,” Dudley said. “I tinker.”

His tinkering led to the construction of a variety of instruments over the past 10 years including the bass guitars he plays.

“I was just never happy with what I found in the stores. They felt cheap, so I decided to build my own,” he said.

He hopes his tinkering leads to profitability. Under the name, Sipsey River Steel, he’s sold several guitars already. He also sent a lap steel guitar to Australian musician Andrew Winton who loved the guitar so much he created a demo video for Dudley. The demo shows off the instrument’s range of uses, which include being played as an acoustic or electric instrument for every genre from folk to rock.

Dudley’s in the process now of applying to take part in the NAMM show in Nashville next year. NAMM is the trade association of the international music products industry. Dudley said he hopes to get his instruments in front of some of the industry’s top musicians.

The band will also get the instruments in front of new eyes Jan. 20-23 for the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

For more information about Sipsey River Steel, visit or